Chapter 82

This entry is part 7 of 15 in the series Mad World: Liberty

Song in Taggert & Portia Scene: Say Yes (Floetry)


This is a state of grace
This is the worthwhile fight
Love is a ruthless game
Unless you play it good and right
These are the hands of fate
You’re my Achilles heel
This is the golden age of something good and right and real

State of Grace (Taylor’s Version), Taylor Swift


Saturday, February 14, 2004

 Ward House: Kitchen

Justus slid his cell phone into his pocket as he strode into the kitchen and grabbed his wife around the waist, swirling her into an impromptu waltz around the room. Kimi, secure in her booster chair, laughed and clapped her hands together.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” Tamika teased. “You get those reservations?”

“I got those reservations,” Justus confirmed, dipping her then tilting her back up for a long, sumptuous kiss. “Mmmmm…and I got us a babysitter.”

Tamika drew back, her brows raised. “Oh, really?”

“Bobbie’s looking after Michael and Morgan while Carly is out of town,” Justus said, stepping back from Tamika and heading for the coffee pot. “She said she’d be happy to take of Kimi for a few hours.”

“It won’t be too much? Three kids?”

“No, I think she said one of Felicia’s daughters is going to come over and hang out, and Lucas is upstairs.” Justus rolled his shoulders. “I’d forgotten how many people I had here,” he said, more to himself. “I went to Philly to be with family, but—”

“But Faith and Keesha have their own things going on, and you were too busy to make friends.” Tamika wrapped her arms around him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Where’s Carly going?”

Justus paused, then stirred sugar into his coffee. “I can’t say for sure,” he admitted. “Bobbie didn’t, and I’m not supposed to know, I think.”

“But you do.”

“Ned and Alexis are also heading out of town this weekend,” Justus said. He sipped his coffee. “To talk to AJ about ELQ.”

“And Alexis is Carly’s lawyer.” Tamika nodded. “I see.”

He smiled at her. “But today, that’s not our problem. I’m all yours tonight.”

“Looking forward to it.” She kissed him again. “Love you, baby.”

“Love you, too.”

Kelly’s: Diner

Maxie slumped onto the stool and made a face. “I blame you for this,” she called into the kitchen. Lulu emerged, her face scrunched into a scowl.

“Doesn’t everyone?” she demanded. “What else is new?”

Maxie didn’t notice Lulu’s lousy mood and continued to complain, shredding a napkin. “Kyle can’t get away. He’s got this stupid paper, and, like, by the time he drove here, he’d have to go to sleep and get up tomorrow to drive back.”

“And that’s my fault?” Lulu demanded.

“No. But when I said I was thinking about doing long-distance, you told me to go for it. Now, look at me. Alone on Valentine’s Day.” Maxie huffed.

“Then break up with him.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Then why—” Lulu growled and made a choking gesture with her hands. “Do you just want to complain about having a gorgeous, smart boyfriend?”

“No,” Maxie drawled, then it must have clicked. “Oh. You’re still in a funk over what happened with Dante.”

“In a funk, she says,” Lulu muttered. She disappeared into the kitchen, and Maxie followed. “I did what I always do, and you didn’t even bother to remember—”

“I remembered, I just didn’t think it was a big deal. Dante’s a nice guy. He’ll figure out you meant well.” Maxie shrugged and hopped onto a counter, dazzling DJ, the line cook, with a bright smile. “And if he doesn’t figure out, better to know now that he doesn’t deserve you than waste months figuring it out.”

Lulu peered at her. “What does that mean?”

“You did something dumb for the right reasons and someone who really knows you would get that. He was hurting, and he was gonna keep hurting until someone did something.” Maxie jumped back to the ground. “He’s just mad because whatever was picking at him, he had to tell his mother. Or at least maybe. You never said what the problem was.”

She looked at her best friend expectantly, but Lulu turned away and went back into the dining room. “Oh, he’s not talking to you, but I still don’t get the gossip? Ugh. He really doesn’t deserve you. How am I supposed to bitch about him with you if you won’t tell me what’s going on?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lulu murmured. She looked over at the door as the bell over it jingled, and Dante came in with Cruz. Their eyes met, then Dante looked away, taking a seat with his back to the kitchen.

“I should make a list of ways to destroy him,” Maxie decided. “Because if he’s gonna dump you—”

“He didn’t dump me. You can’t be dumped if you’re not picked up.” Lulu took a deep breath. “It never really got started, Maxie, so just let it go.”

“I’ll let it go, but I won’t forget.”

New Orleans, Louisiana

 Garden District: Chestnut Street

The house was set back from the street by a tall, imposing black iron fence, the structure hidden by clusters of trees and flowers. Carly debated leaping from the car as the driver stopped briefly at the gate to request entrance.

But she didn’t. She’d traveled all the way to New Orleans to beg the one man who likely hated her more than anyone else in the world. She needed to try, needed to knock on every door to save her boys.

Her resolve lasted until she trailed after Ned towards the front of the house, and she saw something in a window. A curtain moving back into place. He was watching. AJ knew she was coming—he’d agreed to it.

What if he’d let her come all the way here only to refuse to listen?

“This was a mistake.”

Alexis caught Carly’s elbow as the blonde whirled around and started back down the path towards the circular driveway where their car was parked. “Carly—”

“She’s not wrong,” Ned said, leaning against the column at the top of the steps. Alexis glared at him, her grasp on Carly slipping.

“You are not helping.”

“You didn’t ask for help,” Ned reminded her. “You asked for a meeting.” He turned at the sound of the door opening.

AJ Quartermaine stepped out onto the porch, his blonde hair waving slightly over his forehead, his eyes clear. He slid his hands into the pockets of his tan trousers and came to stand next to his cousin, his mouth grim. “Change your mind, Carlybabes?”

Carly tensed at the reminder of that terrible time, of that year living with the Quartermaines, trying desperately to push AJ into divorcing her and giving her custody. She turned and faced her ex-husband, flinching at the hostility he didn’t bother to hide.

He was going to say no. Of course he was. He would take everything she told him about the situation and then file for custody. He would take Michael from her—

“I don’t have all day,” AJ continued. He flicked his eyes at Ned. “We still have a meeting of our own.”

“I know, Junior.” Ned paused, looked at Carly and Alexis, the lawyer whispering to the client. He lowered his own voice. “Look, I told you some of what’s going on back home—”

“Ned—”

“She came here with an olive branch,” he interrupted. “And if you play this right, kid, you have a shot at seeing Michael. A real shot this time. I’m asking you to give her a chance to explain things.”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t,” Ned said after a moment. “But I won’t ever get a second chance with my daughter.” His throat tightened, and AJ’s eyes dipped. “I threw away a lot of chances to do right by Brooke. Michael needs you. Carly’s done terrible things, Junior. But none of us are shiny and brand new, are we?”

“No. No, we’re not.” AJ nodded. “All right. Fine.” He raised his voice. “Look, you might as well come in and talk about it, Carly.” He paused, flicked his eyes back to Ned. “We’ll negotiate what I want.”

“What you—” Carly approached the bottom of the steps. “You’re willing to help?”

“I’m open to it, but my help isn’t free, Carly.”

“Of course not.” Carly closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “All right. I’ll come in.”

Port Charles Park: Fountain

The snow crunched beneath his feet the way it had that night, and though the sun still shone in the sky, for just a moment, Lucky was back there. The bitter chill biting at his cheeks, his frustration, the quiet stillness of the night, the sound of the snow—

His irritation at silly little Lizzie Webber, lying about something stupid and worrying them all—

Then the whimper.

He’d turned and she’d been there. Just there. On her hands and knees, crawling out of the snow, her coat gone, her dress torn and dirty—

“I thought I’d find you here.”

Lucky turned now and found a different brunette standing just beyond the pathway, on the other side of the fountain, a bright red cap pulled over her hair, her hands in the pockets of her white coat. Kelsey met him halfway.  “Why?”

“Cruz said you had a look when you got off shift today.” Kelsey wound an arm through one of his and together they looked back at the bench. “He called,” she added. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Lucky cleared his throat. “Yeah,” he repeated. “I couldn’t remember it the last few years. Not clearly. I tried to celebrate Valentine’s Day again with Elizabeth, and I think we did okay. But the day just hits different this year.”

“I know. I saw Scott at the office for a few hours this morning, and he brought it up. And of course—” Kelsey made a face. “The papers ran a story. I’m glad Elizabeth isn’t in town to see any of it.”

Lucky raised his eyes to the foliage that surrounded the area. “Six years ago,” he murmured. “I can’t believe I ever forgot that night. It hit me like a freight train when Dillon talked about what happened to Brooke. Looking at his face, the guilt, the worry, the anger—I felt all of it that night.”

“I know.”

“He was a customer,” he said softly. “A regular. So regular that I didn’t even remember him. How can someone walk in and out of your life and not register? He arrested us, Kelse. I didn’t even remember. He was the cop that grabbed me and Elizabeth when we went to my dad’s club. She never suspected.”

“It chills me,” Kelsey said. “To think that he was so close to her all of those times. To think that he kept trying to recreate it. I wonder if part of him was always coming back here. To her. Lucky, there was no way for any of us to know it. Not until we had the new cases. Until we had the new details.”

“Maybe. But we’ll never know for sure, will we?” Lucky cleared his throat. “How many more women are out there that never reported? Are there more like Brooke? Who couldn’t handle it and killed themselves?”

“We’re not going to know that.” She rubbed his arm. “We did the job. You got the evidence, and we got the plea. He’s in jail, and Elizabeth made sure that he was never going to get to do this to another woman. That’s all we can do.”

“Yeah.” Lucky forced a smile, then met her eyes. “Let’s get out of here. Dad got a great act from the city for tonight. You wanna go dancing with me?”

“Always.”

Lucky led her out of the clearing, away from the fountain, and out of the park where so many lives had been destroyed.

Chestnut Street: Study

AJ closed the door. If they were going to talk, it would be without her lawyer or his cousin standing over their shoulders. He turned to find Carly standing in the middle of the room. She’d shed the coat she’d worn, but her body was still braced as if she was ready to flee at any minute.

He hadn’t seen Carly in more than a year, not since he’d signed the divorce papers from Courtney and left Port Charles behind, not wanting to see his wife move on with his brother. The last time they’d been in the same room, Carly had been incandescent with rage because AJ had dared to speak to his own son on the docks. She’d treated AJ like he was some kind of monster who didn’t deserve to breathe.

“I don’t know how to start this,” Carly said after a long moment of tense silence. “I don’t know how to ask you for help.” She let her arms fall to her side for a moment, then crossed them again, as if she wasn’t sure what to do with them.

“Let’s start with something easy, then.” Ned’s words were still echoing in AJ’s mind — the sorrow at never having another chance with Brooke — AJ didn’t want those regrets. “I think until that night you fell, we can both agree I hadn’t really done anything to deserve the way you treated me.”

Carly’s face tightened, and she looked at the ground. “Until I lost my son.”

“Right.” His stomach twisted. “I can understand how you still blame me. I blame me. I didn’t push you. But I could have walked away. I chose not to.”

“That’s fair,” she managed. She lifted her eyes to his. “I know you didn’t push me. But it was easier to blame you. I couldn’t blame myself. I couldn’t admit—” The words broke off, and her voice broke. “I couldn’t.”

“If we’re ever going to be able to work together to help Michael,” he continued, “we need to let the past go. I don’t want to be Ned in fifteen years, wondering if I could have done more.”

“I—” She clutched a hand to her throat. “I don’t want that. The—it was horrible. What happened to Brooke. I—You know about the rapist case. That Elizabeth—”

“It was the same man, yeah. I know.”  AJ tilted his head. “I didn’t realize you were part of it. You and Elizabeth never got along.”

“We’re still not—” Carly sighed, looked away, her shoulders slumping. “It’s not fair to say we don’t now. I think we understand each other. After the panic room. She…worked really hard to rescue me. She almost died.” She closed her eyes. “And you know all of this because Ned and Emily—but I need to start there. With the panic room. Because it’s why I have to ask for help. Something—”

Her skin was pale, and she swayed slightly. AJ strode forward, braced a hand at the small of her back. “Sit down. Here—” He gestured at a small sofa behind them.

“I’m—” Carly began to protest but nodded. “Yes, all right. I’m sorry. It’s hard to talk about it sometimes. I was doing better for a long time, but all of this—it’s bringing it back.” AJ handed her a glass of water. “Thank you.”

“Ned told me that you’d had some trouble getting past what happened. That it created issues for you and Sonny,” AJ said. He sat in a chair near the sofa.

“Ned doesn’t know everything. And it matters. Not because I want you to feel sorry for me. I don’t. But it’s part of it. I had—” She closed her eyes. “Have,” she corrected softly. “I have Acute Stress Disorder, though I’m sure Kevin’s ready to call it PTSD since it’s still lingering. Panic attacks. Dissociative episodes. Though that hasn’t happened since December.”

AJ hadn’t known all of that, and it made him shift uncomfortably. He didn’t like to think of Carly vulnerable, as someone who could be hurt. “You’re doing better then.”

“I think so. I hope so.” She set the water aside. “After the panic room, I worked with Kevin to get most of my triggers under control. I was doing better. Then Scott offered Elizabeth and me a deal. With Ric. He was going to represent himself which meant we’d be cross-examined by the man—” Carly cleared her throat. “Anyway. Elizabeth and I wanted to testify. We thought it would help. Jason was on board because Elizabeth comes first for him.”

AJ’s fingers clenched. “But Sonny wasn’t.”

“No. He, ah, well, I’m sure you can imagine. Sonny wanted a deal so Ric could go to jail and have an accident. Jason stood up for us, and that was the end of it. But Sonny never forgave me. And he made threats against Scott. So I left. I couldn’t—I couldn’t stand it.” She paused. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to ramble. I just want you to understand what’s going on with Sonny. What Michael’s been going through.”

“It’s fine, Carly. I want to know whatever you think I need to know to help.” And he wanted to know what the hell had brought her so low she was here, asking him for that help.

“I left,” Carly repeated. “I wanted Sonny to understand that it wasn’t fair for him to keep taking what happened to me and making it about him. That he was out of control. But then Morgan was born, and I thought things were better. When Ric jumped bail, he wanted me to move back in for safety. I agreed. But he…” She rubbed her arms.

“Are you cold?”

“N-No, it’s just hard to talk about. Um, he fired Leticia and refused to give me a new guard or an access key to the elevator. I couldn’t get out of the penthouse. It was like being locked up again. I tried to explain it to him, but he couldn’t hear me.” She stared down at her hands. “Then the hearing. The federal one with the case. Ned told you about it, I’m sure.”

“The feds were trying to take over the case.”

“Yeah. Sonny and I went to support Elizabeth, and I was just—” Carly squeezed her eyes shut. “It doesn’t matter. I just—I wanted a change. So when we came back, I told Sonny I was leaving. And he locked me in the bedroom.”

“Locked you in the bedroom.” AJ was surprised to feel his hands fisting at his side. “He locked you in the bedroom.”

“I don’t really remember much after that.” Carly reached for the water again, but her hands were shaking. AJ reached forward to steady the glass, and she took another sip. “Um, that was the dissociative episode I mentioned. I just—I thought I was in the panic room again. Anyway, I got out of that, and I left again. I never went back.” Her voice was a bit stronger now. “That’s why I left him. I begged him to get help, but he’s just getting worse. He broke into the Brownstone and went after Lucas and his boyfriend. He’s screaming at Jason, treating Elizabeth terribly, and Michael’s seen some of it. Not that night in December,” she added quickly. “But he’s afraid of Sonny—” And this time, Carly’s voice broke, and the tears came with it. She covered her mouth with her hand. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I took him from you, and I had no right, and all I’ve done is hurt him—”

“You haven’t hurt him,” AJ said. He sat next to her, took her hand. “I’m not your biggest fan,” he added when her wide eyes met his. “So when I say that, you know I mean it. I don’t think you’ve ever done anything intending for Michael to get hurt. And it sounds like you tried to protect him. You left, didn’t you? You’re filing for divorce.”

“Don’t be nice to me.” She stared straight ahead, her lips trembling. “Don’t. I don’t deserve it. You were right earlier. You never did anything to deserve the things I did to you. I never gave you a chance with Michael, and then I used that fall to take him away for good. I’m the reason my baby died.”

“It was a tragedy, Carly, and it was no one’s fault. Yours or mine. Or if it was someone’s, it was both of us.” AJ had planned to hold on to his hostility and anger, but he had also expected to be doing battle with the woman who’d stormed into his home, convinced him to marry her, and then destroyed his life all over again.

He couldn’t hold up against this version of his ex-wife, this trembling, sobbing mess apologizing for all the wrongs. Maybe he was the biggest sucker in the world, but just maybe, they were both due for a second chance.

“And maybe I didn’t deserve what you did to me, but I definitely had some karma coming from the universe,” AJ said dryly. “I did terrible, selfish things before you came into my life, Carly. Let’s put it aside. You need me to sign on to that petition to revoke the adoption.”

“Y-yes.” Carly swiped at her eyes. “I know it means petitioning for your paternal rights to be reinstated. I’ll agree to that.”

“Good. Because that was first on the list.” AJ hesitated. “Ned’s down here to talk to me about ELQ,” he added. “Tracy’s in New York, and he can’t focus in Port Charles with being mayor. He’s stepping down, and I’m first in line to take over.”

“Oh.” Carly frowned at him. “But that’s good news.”

“It is. I’ll be moving back in a few months,” he continued. “And if I have my paternal rights, Carly, I don’t want it only on paper. I want my son.”

She closed her eyes. “I know.”

“But I’m willing to take this at your speed. Michael’s been through enough, and he doesn’t know me. Or if he does, it’s not kindly,” AJ said, and Carly flushed at the reminder. “We’ll take it slow because he comes first.”

“Okay. Okay. I can—” Carly swiped her cheeks. “I can do that. Um, we’ll sign papers. You’ll want that in writing. Alexis said you would, and I brought things. You can get a lawyer, too—”

“We’ll work all of that, Carly.” He rose to his feet. “Come on. You can go get washed up while Ned and I talk.”

“I—” Carly stopped him before they reached the doors. AJ turned back to her, and she swallowed hard. “Thank you. For listening. For helping.”

“Thank you for asking.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ll get Michael through this, Carly. Whatever he needs to be okay.”

Lucas & Felix’s Apartment: Living Room

“Hey, Mom—” Lucas tugged the door open, then went back to the table where he was shoving things into his backpack. “I was just around to run out. I’ve got an organic chem study group—”

“I won’t keep you.” Bobbie closed the door behind her, taking a moment to smile at her little boy, all grown up and living on his own — even if it was just upstairs. “I just talked to your father yesterday at work and he mentioned that you’d stopped by.”

Lucas stilled, then looked at her. “He did.”

“He didn’t get into the details, only asked me how Carly was. And he said it might be a good idea for me to touch base with you on how you’re feeling.” She tipped her head. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how hard this last year has been for you—”

“Hardly,” he snorted, resuming his packing. “I met Felix, and I was able to come out without any real drama—”

“You came out after a friend of yours died,” Bobbie corrected, and Lucas sighed. “And I know you were scared for a long time. Plus, there was that tension with Georgie and Mac. And that’s not even talking about the elephant in the room with Carly and the boys—”

“The boys are fine,” Lucas said with a quick shake of his head. “I love them—”

“I know. You’re the best uncle they could ask for. And you’ve been an amazing brother to Carly. I just hope you haven’t felt pressured into it. If you’re really not ready—”

“I—” Lucas shook his head. “It’s not about that. It was just—I still have a lot of complicated feelings about her,” he admitted. “And some of that was just feeling like I was betraying Dad. He’s cleared that part of up, mostly. But it’s hard to let go of who she was when I was growing up. Feeling like she destroyed my family. I know she didn’t. At least not on her own,” he added when he saw Bobbie open her mouth. “But it’s easier for me to blame her than you or Dad.”

“I get that, baby. I do. I never meant for you to feel like I was choosing her—”

“A few years ago,” Lucas said slowly, “it did. It felt like Dad went crazy because he lost his real kid, and you’d forgotten about me because you had your real kid—”

“Oh, sweetheart—”

“And I was just in the middle, this adopted kid no one really had time for anymore—” He met his mother’s eyes. “I don’t feel that way now. I don’t, Mom. We all lost BJ, and it took us a while to reset. We’ve done that now, and I think we’re okay now. I’m glad you’re close with Carly. You’re a great mom, and she’s lucky to have you.”

“That means a lot to me, Lucas. It really does.”

“And I’m coming around on Carly. She’s different, I guess. Or maybe I’m different. I’m just—I seeing new sides to her. And maybe part of it is missing have a sister. I loved BJ.” His voice broke for just a moment and he swallowed hard. “I went from being a brother to an only child, and I didn’t like it. So I don’t know if it’s Carly I like or just that I like having someone. I had Maxie and Georgie, but it’s not the same.”

“I know it.”

“I’m sorting it through, Mom. Right now, Carly does need her family to stick by her, and I’m okay with being there. When this is done, when she’s on her feet again and things are—I don’t know—normal, we’ll see where we are. For now, this is okay.” He hoisted his backpack on his shoulder. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Maybe not, but it won’t stop me.”  Bobbie kissed her cheek and he smiled her. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you, too, Mom.”

Port Charles Hotel: Honeymoon Suite

Portia’s brows were raised as Marcus pushed open the door, revealing the sitting room to one of the hotel’s most luxurious suites. She eyed him over her shoulder as he closed the door behind him. “Something wrong with the Grille?”

“I wanted to have you all to myself,” Marcus said. He crossed over to a stereo and flicked one of the buttons.

There is only one for me

“Been a while since I had someone to spoil on Valentine’s Day.” He slid her coat off her shoulders. “Complaints?”

You have made that a possibility

“Now, I didn’t say that.”  She sighed as he disappeared from view for a moment, leaving to tuck their coats away, out of sight.

We could take that step to see

She wandered over to a table set with ruby red china and a set of wine glasses, a bottle chilling in a bucket to the left. There were red roses on the table, pink on the coffee table, white on each of the accent tables, and she had an idea she’d find more roses in the bedroom that was likely beyond the double doors.

If this is really gonna be

Her heart fluttered slightly when she heard his footsteps behind her, returning to the room. He’d removed his own coat in the other room, and now he wore a tuxedo, the clean, crisp white linen stark against his darker skin.

All you got to do is say yes

“You really went all out.” Portia straightened his lapels, sliding her fingers down his chest and smiling up at him. His jacket had already been perfect, but she’d wanted to touch him. To be sure he was real. “I only got you those cuff links—”

“I loved them, and I needed new ones. I’m in court more than I used to be,” Marcus assured her. He took her hand, slid the other around her waist, drawing her into a slow, lazy dance, gently swaying back and forth. “Gotta look right.”

All you got to do is say yes
Don’t deny what you feel, let me undress you, babe

“You always look right.” She tilted her head up, smiling when he flashed her another one of those rare grins. He was also so serious, always so focused on the job and doing every little thing right. She loved when he showed his other side. When he just let himself be Marcus, not Lieutenant Taggert.

Open up your mind and just rest
I’m about to let you know, you make me so

“I know it’s only been a few weeks,” Marcus murmured, drawing her closer so that his chin brushed her curls. He dipped his head down, his breath warm on her neck, her skin tingly. “But it’s been the best six weeks of my life. The night I met you—”

“I know.” She closed her eyes. “I never thought I’d believe it could hit like that. But bam. Like lightning.”

All you got to do is say yes
Don’t deny what you feel, let me undress you, babe

“Like someone slapped me upside the head with a hammer,” he told her, and Portia laughed. She drew back slightly to frame his face in her hands. His beloved face. Two months ago, she hadn’t known he existed, and now—

Loving you has taken time, take time

“I love you,” Portia said, the words tumbling out so fast that she almost didn’t believe she’d said them before they were out there, hanging in the air. In the universe. Where he could hear them.

But I always knew you could be mine

His eyes darkened, and a muscle twitched in his cheek as the humor slid out of his eyes, his body tensing beneath her fingers. Her heart was beating rapidly. Oh, God, it was too soon—she’d rushed it—

I-I recognize the butterflies inside me, ah

“I haven’t said those words to a woman that wasn’t my mother in a long time,” he finally said, his voice rough and a bit unsteady. “And I haven’t heard them in even longer.”

Her pulse picked up, but some of the nerves slid away as Portia leaned up to brush her lips against his. “I’ll say them as often as you want, but don’t leave me hanging here, Marcus.”


Sense is gonna be made tonight, tonight

“I love you,” he said, the words more of a breath than audible speech, but they slid inside of her, warming her from the tips of her toes to the marrow in her bones. “I love you,” he repeated, a bit louder now, and she gripped him by the lapels of that gorgeous tuxedo.

“I hope dinner’s not going to get cold.” Then she pushed the jacket off his shoulders and took hold of the bow tie around his neck, leading him to those double doors, his grin only spreading.

All you got to do is say yes

Lake House: Kitchen

Jason put the last dinner plate in the drying rack, then reached for a dishtowel. He heard Elizabeth in the living room, then the television. Part of their evening routine—dinner, then dozing in front of the television, one of her seemingly endless reality shows in the background. He didn’t mind the noise — he always brought a book or something to read, and he liked to listen to her laugh, the warmth of her against him reassuring.

Quiet nights like these were rare at home, and they only had one more before they drove home on Monday.

A commercial filtered in, and Jason blinked, turning towards the living room. He tossed the towel aside and wandered towards the doorway, frowning at the screen. A candy company was advertising their special, limited edition Valentine’s chocolate.

He hadn’t even thought of it as Valentine’s Day. The days had melded together over the last two weeks, and he’d lost track of the date. She’d never mentioned it. Was she angry that he hadn’t done anything?

Or maybe this year—

Jason sat next to her, surprised when the commercial ended and a movie came on instead of one of the shows. “What’s this?”

“Oh—” Elizabeth smiled at him, her eyes a bit heavy as she curled into his side, tucking her head into his shoulder. “I wanted something different. To get my mind off things. Why?”

“I—I heard the commercial. It’s Valentine’s Day.” As soon as he said it, he wanted to pull the words back. Her body tensed, but she didn’t move. “I didn’t think about it.”

“No, I guess not.” Elizabeth straightened and muted the television. “I didn’t really think about it, either—that’s not right. I didn’t want to think about it,” she corrected. “So I put it out of my head.”

“I’m sorry—I didn’t—”

“No, I should get it out of my head. I’ve been avoiding thinking about it mostly because—” Elizabeth turned slightly to face him. “I mean, there’s the obvious. It’s different this year,” she added.

“Okay.” Jason waited, and after a long moment, she continued.

“I mean, it’s a silly holiday anyway. You know, I don’t need a day to tell you I love you. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a date on a calendar.” She jerked a shoulder, then tucked herself back into his side, switching the sound back on.

They sat there for a little while, the movie playing in the background. She might have been paying attention, but he wasn’t. He liked sitting here, his mind drifting, listening to the sound of her breathing. It was still a bit shallow, but it was better and less labored than it’d been when they’d arrived, so he was all right with it for now.

“I was such a silly girl,” she murmured. “So excited for a date with the boy I liked. So sure that when he saw me in my pretty red dress, he’d be happy he was with me.” Jason tightened his arm around her, his chest tight as he stared straight ahead. “Gram was convinced Lucky would fall head over heels for me, you know. We spent over an hour looking for just the right dress, and she lent me a bracelet Gramps had given her.”

He stroked her shoulder, pressed his lips to the top of her head. And still said nothing. “Sometimes, I have dreams. Really vivid ones. I’m sitting there on the sofa, the box in my lap, so excited—and Lucky comes to tell me about Sarah. And I stop myself from lying about that stupid date. I tell him that it’s not okay to break plans with me. Or I go to the dance anyway, and I meet someone else, and I don’t go to the movies, and I don’t go to the park.”

Her breath hitched, but her words continued. “And then I wake up, and I wake up back in this body, in this life. Knowing I lied, knowing about the park, and it’s like it’s happening again, and I get so angry at that stupid girl for lying.”

“It wasn’t her fault,” Jason said softly, but he tightened his hold on her.

“I k-know that, but sometimes—” Elizabeth paused. “It’s a silly stupid holiday that we don’t need because we love each other, and we say it all the time, but I get so angry that I don’t get to have it. I tried to take it back, and I thought I did. I really did. But this year, it’s just—it’s in my head, and it’s worse. Because it wasn’t random. I was a stupid silly girl who didn’t even recognize the monster who raped me. For years, Jason. Years. I served him coffee. He arrested me!”

Elizabeth sat up, her breath still shaky, but it didn’t sound labored. Jason searched her eyes, waiting for a cue for what she needed. “And he raped those other girls in Buffalo on the same date. They called him the Valentine Rapist in the Buffalo papers. Did you see that?”

“I know they did.”

“He stole that day from all those girls. And it doesn’t matter that it’s a stupid, commercial holiday, okay? I never even got to have one with someone I loved before he ruined it forever—”

“We can pick another day,” Jason cut in, unable to handle her pain anymore. “Any other day. We’ll make it ours.”

She smiled then, but tears were sliding down her cheeks. “I know. I know we can do that. And maybe we will. But this year, I know what happened. I know it in a way I never did before. He targeted me, Jason. And he was still raping me every time he attacked someone else. Knowing he’s in prison for the rest of his life, if we’re lucky—it doesn’t take that away. Nothing ever will.”

Elizabeth sighed, then leaned back against him. He slid his fingers through her hair. “Next year,” she said, her voice stronger. “I know we’re not making a lot of plans, but I want this one. Next year, I want this day back. Even if we never celebrate it again or whatever. I want this day.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do.”

“I don’t want to think about it anymore. He’s stolen too many days from me. Too many nights.” She tightened her arm around his waist, snuggling closer. “We don’t have a lot of time before we have to go home and face everything we ran away from. I don’t want to think about him anymore.”

“Then we won’t.”

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Comments

  • Not even sure where to start because all of these conversations were so well done. Maxie and Lulu, I enjoy that they are just teens doing their thing and are far more likable than their GH counterparts. Loved Justus/Tamika and Taggart/Porta in getting their alone time. I am also enjoying Lucas and his new relationship with his parents and perhaps Carly too.

    But Carly/AJ and Liason stole the chapter. Liason is a given, that scene with them talking about Valentines day was so well done and as always I can picture Steve and Becky playing that out.

    I really like the AJ/Carly scene, it went from border antagonistic to very empathetic and it was a wonderful give and take on each others emotions and feeling. I really hope that they can work it out as co-parents and maybe even someday friends. Well done

    According to nanci on May 18, 2022
  • What an amazing chapter.
    I loved the conversation between AJ and Carly and the fact that AJ went from expecting to be angry to being empathic.

    According to Nicole on May 18, 2022
  • The Valentine’s acknowledgements for both Elizabeth and Lucky were so well done: bittersweet and emotional in all the right tones balanced by the lightheartedness of the Justice/Mikka and Taggert/Portia scenes. But I have to agree with others – the AJ/Carly scenes stole the show this chapter and showed just how much Carly’s character has developed.

    Beyond well done. I also echo comments above: what makes your writing so incredible is that I can see the scenes in my mind with the show’s actors playing all of the characters.

    Bravo and a standing ovation just aren’t sufficient for Mad World.

    According to LivingLiason on May 18, 2022
  • Great update! This chapter was cathartic for most of the characters. I really enjoyed it. Let the healing begin. Fantastic writing!

    According to Felicia on May 19, 2022
  • What a chapter! Lucky and Elizabeth remembering that Valentine’s Day was so emotional. AJ seeing how Carly is now and wanting to help her get a second chance. Lucas broke my heart. Then we have Justus and Taggert loving their women. I love how you involve so many characters in your stories.

    According to arcoiris0502 on May 19, 2022
  • this chapter was outstanding and you hit all the right notes. I did really like the AJ/Carly scenes. Of course, Liason made me tear up.

    TY

    According to Pamela Hedstrom on May 31, 2022